May the Horse be With You- horse centred learning with Spence Horse Sense

So it’s May the 4th, Star Wars day, a significant day for Star Wars fans all over the world, particularly this year as lockdown fever will be alleviated with the release of ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ on Disney+. Much excitement in the Spence household over that one.

However there’s another reason for excitement in the Spence household today, also related to the lockdown, and that is the launch of my online courses.

For years I’ve been delivering webinars and lectures online for universities, also for CPD for organisations such as the APBC (Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors) and BVBA (British Veterinary Behaviour Association), but that’s been the limit of my online teaching. I’ve always resisted doing online coaching and consultations, preferring to actually see my clients in the real world. However the coronavirus lockdown has changed all that.

Thankfully now we are blessed with such fantastic technology that I’ve been able to carry on coaching my regular clients via video calling. For me, this has been a revelation, and is nearly as good as seeing them. I’ve also been able to conduct behaviour consultations this way, alongside getting my clients to film footage of their day to day interactions with their horse and various aspects of the problem. It’s been a real eye opener for me, and looks like it will revolutionise my business in the future.

But perhaps the most exciting discovery has been the (very steep learning curve!) discovery that I’ve made, which is how to set up online courses. All brought about because of the lockdown leading to cancellation of my BHS (British Horse Society) CPD days planned for this year. The plan was to deliver my ‘How Horses Learn Best: Learning Theory in Context’ day at various venues around the UK and Ireland. But coronavirus has put paid to that. So we had to find a way to get the material online. Thankfully BHS Ireland had filmed the first day, so hooray, I’ve been able to convert the footage into an online course, available not just for coaches but for all with an interest.

In addition, I’ve some clicker courses complete and more useful courses in the pipeline. If you’d like to be kept notified of new courses, pop along to the site and sign up to the mailing list.

You might ask what’s different about my clicker courses to other ones out there. Not only do I have over twenty years experience of training horses with the clicker, which puts me in pretty much the first wave of horse trainers training that way in the UK and Ireland (in fact when I began I don’t think anyone else in Ireland was doing it!). I also have highly relevant qualifications, having a Psychology degree, a PhD in horse behaviour, and being an ABTC (Aninal Behaviour and Training Council) registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist specialising in horses. I have worked in the horse industry for over twenty years, including in riding schools, stud yards and rescue centres and have extensive practical horse handling and training experience. And I’ve been teaching this stuff at all levels from happy hacker to post graduate degree since 2003.

I’ve been developing my techniques over that time, always evolving and innovating. I’ve shared so much of what I do with other trainers, at conferences and online, but I still find there’s a bit of a chinese whispers effect. So if you really want to know about calmness in training, the foundation behaviours I consider important, straight from the horse’s mouth, then these are the courses for you.

For the How Horses Learn Best: Learning Theory in Context course, go to https://helenspence.podia.com/learning-theory-in-context

For the Getting Started with the Clicker course, go to https://helenspence.podia.com/getting-started-with-the-clicker

And for the store front listing all the courses go to https://helenspence.podia.com/ and scroll down the page.

Enjoy!!

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Learning Theory in Context for the BHS at Enniskillen College, CAFRE.

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On Friday 28th February I spent the day at Enniskillen College delivering CPD (Continuing professional development) for around sixty British Horse Society, Horse Sport Ireland and Pony Club coaches. The theme for the day was learning theory in context and served as a practical follow up to the chapter on learning theory that I wrote for the BHS book Complete Horsemanship Volume Four, published in November 2019 by Kennilworth Press. I’ve already blogged about how important it is to look at learning theory in the context of emotions, stress, motivation and body language. Applying, for example, operant conditioning, in a mechanical way, without understanding the relationship to classical conditioning and the impact we are having on the horse in terms of stress and arousal levels, is a very risky thing to do. Of course we all want to promote safety, both for horse and rider, and more importantly, we want to ensure that the horse’s wellbeing and welfare do not suffer as a consequence of our training choices.

I was delighted to be able to explain learning theory and how it applies in context, in the real world, for the coaches. We started in the lecture theatre with an introduction to the nervous system, arousal levels, understanding body language, and the impact that training has on the horse.

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Following lunch, we headed out to the indoor arena to look at three different horses and their reactions to a range of circumstances. The focus was on interpreting the horse’s body language. Often coaches and other equine professionals can have a good implicit understanding of how a horse is feeling, based on a lifetime of experience and often learned through the school of hard knocks. However, when coaching, it isn’t sufficient to say the horse is happy or unhappy. We need to be able to explain to clients what signs we are seeing and what they mean, in order that they can learn to recognise them. The better we can help clients to be at reading and understanding what the horse is telling them, the safer we can keep everyone concerned. So the emphasis was on describing what the horse was doing/ showing in terms of body language that led to the interpretation of how they were feeling and what was happening in the nervous system.

We then looked at the impact of different kinds of stimuli and how the kind of training we use can change the way the horse is feeling about those stimuli, for better or worse.

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The day provided food for thought for all the coaches, and I got great feedback at the end of it all. We’ll hopefully be running another one at Kildalton College in Kilkenny, probably in the autumn once the coronavirus pandemic settles.

I’d like to say a huge thankyou to students Ruby and Daria who did a fantastic job of organising the day, to the staff at Enniskillen College for the wonderful facilities and horses, in particular Jenny Richardson who worked hard behind the scenes to support the students and ensure everything ran smoothly. Most of all, a heartfelt thank you to Susan Spratt, Regional Manager for the BHS, who has been inviting me to do presentations and courses for the BHS in Ireland since I began my business in 2003!

Also thank you to the student volunteers and their horses that acted as guinea pigs, and to Nicky Mummery who was an expert umbrella wielder.

The fantastic photographs were taken by Daria Fidgeon, email: fidgeondaria@gmail.com, follow her on Instagram @photographybydaria